Deployment Chronicles–> Article 10 “Haifa, Isreal”

DAY 1 Jerusalem Tour:

We pulled in very early around 9am on the first day and there were tours scheduled for that day and the next.  Some how by the grace of God I had duty the day we pulled out so I was able to sign up for two of the tours!! Best idea everrr! The first day I signed up for Jerusalem and the second day I signed up for the Dead Sea Tour, the other option was Nazareth which a lot of people signed up for, but I decided to go with the Dead Sea Tour which no one was really picking.

I want them to hold tours the day we pull in every time because that’s the fastest liberty call I have ever seen! We had to be ready to go by 11am since the city was almost 2 hours away so we pulled in and after the port brief they pretty much called liberty for all of the people going on the tour. The new Suppo and I walked down to the buses together and we hopped on, and sat in the front of course because that’s where all the cool kids sit. We were off in no time.

Right before we left I had walked down to the mess decks and exchanged all of my Euro’s from Cyprus in for Sheckles, which it was 1:3 for american to sheckles so I got quite a few for the price. I couldn’t remember the name of the currency so for most of the day I called them shakalaka’s. ha.

Our first stop was the Hebrew University. It’s up on this hill overlooking the city and it was a sight to behold. In Israel you are required to be in the military for 3 years before you choose a profession and take up studies, so most of the students are older and going for very intense things such as the medical field or scientists. Interestingly for everyone, no matter who attends, the tuition each semester comes out to be about 2,000.00 american dollars. You have to get accepted first though, but you can get a medical degree for just that price!

There is a granite wall at the top that has a list of names for everyone who has donated more than a million dollars to the school. Steven Spielberg’s name is on there. We took pictures and then headed down to the Church of all Nations that had been built around the rock Jesus sat and pondered on the night right before the roman’s came and arrested him to be crucified. There is an orchard of Olive trees right inside (which I had recognized from Cyprus Greece) and they are almost 1,000 years old. The church was very simple and right when you walk in if you look up you can see the seal of the President of the United States for their contributions to its preservation. I sat down on one of the benches and said a quiet prayer and then I went up to the rock and knelt down and placed my palm on it. On the walls there are mosaics that have pictures which include when the roman’s came, Judas kissing Jesus which was the sign that he was in fact the messiah, and him being taken away.

After leaving the church we headed for the inner walls of Jerusalem. We entered at Jafar gate, which is right next to the wailing wall. I had one of my buttons on my collared shirt unbuttoned and when we walked in a woman made me button it immediately, which I did. The wailing wall is the closest point to the holy of all holy churches in Jerusalem. Only the purest priest is allowed inside and he is only allowed entrance one day out of the year and that is on the day of Atonement. The jews come here and they normally pray for forgiveness and the return of the Messiah. There were two sections, a very large section for the men, and a very small cramped section for the women. I am appalled by their views on women here in the middle east and I don’t take to it kindly. I walked up to the wall and there are many little notes folded up and placed in the bricks. There were women crying and some sitting on chairs reading the koran. When we walked back towards the open area we walked facing the wall so as not to disrespect it.

The jewish men wear big black suits with top hats and some of them have coat tails. They do not shave because cutting themselves is sacrilegious so they have long beards and two big curls on the side of their heads where side burns would be. These are very long and extend down. When they pray they rock up and down at the wall with their hands in the prayer position. I don’t know everything about their culture so I’m not sure why they do that. Jerusalem is divided into four parts. The Christians, jews, aristocrats, and the muslims. We had to stay very close together while moving in the bazar because it is very easy to become lost. There are many shops and it reminded me of the movies where there are chase scenes in different countries and people are on motorcycles and they roar down narrow paths and upset baskets of fruit. That is kind of what the bazar is like. I stayed very close to Q, one of the officer’s because it was very easy to stray and I didn’t want to have my name turned into the Israeli embassy for getting lost.

We walked through a maze of hallways/streets and stopped here and there for information from our tour guide. We finally stopped for dinner and we were all hot and starving. It was buffet style and SOO good. They had this cabbage dish which was amazing and the pita bread with humus was to die for. I ate so much food there, then we headed to the Church of holy Septors which is where Jesus was crucified and the grave where he was buried was also there. This church was a sight to see, I will have to send you pictures. It is run by monks and there were quite a lot of people there. We had stopped and shopped at a store and people who had bought rosary’s or medallions were getting them blessed by the monks and it is a place full of prayers, you can just feel it. I wandered around for a while on my own and found a whole bunch of different passage ways which pretty much all led to altar’s. It was very neat. I couldn’t believe that I was there.

Afterwards we had to exit the city because all tours must be out by sunset according to the policy put in place by the embassy so no one is attacked. We walked out into the night and the city was lit up for a lights festival, it was magical. We were picked up by our bus and taken back home. I then turned around and went out for drinks and Skype. I was able to talk to my family again, which was awesome! We decided to stretch it till the last possible second, me and two other officers, and we were sitting at a bar just thinking about how we needed to get back, when in walked 3 of the officer’s on shore patrol. They were like guys its 1:30, you need to start heading back now (liberty expired at 2am). We agreed and told them we were going to walk to the bus stop. Luckily they had taken the Captain’s car to pick him up and drop him off and they still had it so we got a ride back with them, no effort! We got back right on time and we didn’t even have to walk or wait, awesome! I then went to bed because I had to be up for the Dead Sea Tour very early the next day.

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DAY 2 DEAD SEA TOUR:

There were only 16 people signed up for this tour and so that was already awesome from the beginning. It had cost 95 dollars which was
almost double what the other tours cost and so many people didn’t want to go. The captain signed up with STO EMO CSO, a pilot, and myself. We were the only officers, everyone else was enlisted. The dead sea was almost 3 hours away so we left early and we were in a little bus as opposed to the coach bus that I had ridden to Jerusalem in.

Our first stop was Masada which none of us really knew about. It was a summer home King Harrod had built on the top of a plateau mountain in the desert. It was also a last stand for a group of jewish people against the roman’s years later (we watched a video before we went to the top). We took cable cars to the top of it and that was a sight to see, looking out over the desert from the top. It was sweltering hot and we all had about 3 bottles of water to stay hydrated. My first thought when we got to the top was WOW, this would be the best place to play capture the flag ever. I mentioned that to the captain and he agreed. We walked through all of the nooks and crannies of the fortress, which took a few hours but it was very interesting. King Harrod had built an aqueduct system at the top to supply water to the fortress from the rain run off. It was pretty ingenious. My dad would love to have studied this aqueduct system.

When we were finished at the top we took the cable cars back to the bottom (Thank God! Because I saw people walking both ways and it probably would take an hour in the hot sun to get there.) We were picked up in our little bus and taken to a spa area, to a bunch of resorts, to swim in the dead sea! We ate another buffet style lunch with some very good curry dishes and humus and then we changed into our bathing suits to go swimming… in the dead sea! (I can’t help but add that every time!) We had the whole beach to ourselves and an outside bar, it couldn’t have been better weather.

There is nothing living in the dead sea at all, it is so salty that if you look at bushes growing near the dead sea they have salt particles all over them. Also when you walk out into the sea there are no rocks, just big salt balls. It is so relaxing. You need no effort at all to just lay there. Its harder to try to put your body up right then just lay back and float. Of course then we were all getting beers at the outside bar, and they all bought only one. Well I bought two, one for each hand, because who shouldn’t? It takes absolutely no effort to float in the dead sea, holding two beers is easy peezy. The water was very hot and you absolutely could not go under. It burns right through your eye lids. I had some cuts on my feet and they burned the whole time, but now they are healed! My small pox scab also fell off only after an hour of being in the dead sea. It dries all your cuts right out!

We were all laying there enjoying how amazing it really was when things got taken to the next level. 3 Israeli fighter jets came and did a low slow fly by right above us!! It was quite exciting. There were 2 F15’s and 1 F16 (thanks to the captain and the pilot who identified them) and we were all laughing and yelling. EMO then splashed around too much and got water in my left eye and O did it burn… A lot. It is pretty horrible. I had to keep my eye squeezed shut for about 5 minutes while it burned. Ugh. I also got a taste of the water and it was pretty disgusting. Ickk.

By this time we had to get out and get showers and head home. We stopped at 3 rest stops along the way to buy “drinks” which we drank on the bus and of course we had to keep stopping to use the bathroom… The after effects. The bathrooms in Isreal are co-ed by the way! When it was still day we were driving and we saw about 6 camels running across the road, we made our driver pull over immediately to get pictures. There was a guy on a mule herding them.

When we got back to the ship, I kind of went and bought some diamonds. Israel is the diamond capital of the world, and they had diamond vendors come on board to sell different diamonds to us. I know I probably shouldn’t have but when in Rome… Plus, the captain told me to go for it. He had spent over $6,000 on 3 diamonds for his wife and daughter. I can treat this as a good investment right? H, my roommate bought a $5,000 dollar diamond as an investment, so she could sell it for more and open a Roth IRA. I bought 2 diamonds for earings… That’s all. I’m pretty excited about it!

Okay well this letter is long enough and I must go so I can study for my  OOD board, which is tomorrow!

Deployment Chronicles–> Article 9 “CYPRUS, GREECE”

OKAY, so before I tell you my CYPRUS story there is a very important piece of information you need to know about the little island to the South of Turkey and to the SE of the mainland.

FACT: Turkey invaded Cyprus on Saturday, 20 July 1974. Heavily armed troops landed shortly before dawn on the northern coast meeting resistance from Greek and Greek Cypriot forces. The operation, codenamed “Operation Atilla”, is known in the North as ‘the 1974 Peace Operation’.

The Turks ended their invasion successful taking over 3% of Cyprus in the North while approx. (5,000<– Wikipedia is wrong) 200,000 Greek residents fled to the South. Today there is a barrier between the North that the Turks own and the South where the Greeks live. We were not allowed to travel to the North of the island while I was visiting, but I did get to go on two tours which were fun and awesome!

DAY 1- JEEP SAFARI TOUR

This tour was definitely the better of the two and at first I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was a glorious day and I had the 0300-0800 quarter deck watch the night prior, so I dozed in the jeep on the way to our first location which was about an hour and a half from the ship. We were picked up early around 0800, so I had to scurry to get ready when I was relieved from watch and then hurry to the pier because the jeep was already there waiting for us. Our tour guide/driver’s name was Uli and he was a local Cyprus guy without a care in the world. There were 8 people signed up for the tour but only 6 ended up going which was a perfect size and not too crowded. We got in the jeep, exchanged names with the driver and then we were off zipping along the highway towards the traditional style villages and ultimately headed for the top of Mount Olympus. There is a Mount Olympus in Cyprus and in Greece which does raise a question as to which one is the real one?!

FUN FACT: The funniest thing is that everyone’s water heater is on the roof of their house with solar panels because it’s always so sunny this allows them to get free hot water, and it was very funny seeing all of the houses with water tanks on the roof. Ha!

After napping I awoke and we were at a house in the hills that sold silver and hand sewn lace. They gave us wine and explained some things to us about the lace and the silver and then let us look around. I ended up buying a small piece of the lace to frame, because it was very pretty. Then we were off again and at this point we started our tour of all of the villages on the mountainside. The first one we drove through specialized in honey so they solely work on honey combs with bees to produce the honey which they supply to the island and elsewhere. The second town specialized in oranges. Uli stopped off to the side of the road and allowed us to pick some from a tree and they were extremely juicy and just a perfect treat for the drive. L and I stuffed about 4 each into our bags. We also stopped to look at a Carob tree which is what they use to make chocolate on the island, I tasted the plant, it wasn’t bad but a little dry because they were out of season.

The next town grew all of the grapes to make the wine, and the last town where we actually did stop for a drink specialized in olive oil. Here we bought beers (well I did at least) and sat under the shade of a grape-vine to drink and eat snacks and then we walked down the road a little ways and took pictures of a greek orthodox church that was very old and beautiful in its own way. I enjoyed myself thoroughly during this stop, it was very relaxing. Afterward, we headed up the mountain, and the pressure in my head intensified as we ascended. I tried really hard to pop my ears but since air comes out my eyes, it didn’t work very well. ha!

About 3/4 of the way up the mountain we stopped at some shops and I bought some homemade wine, rice cheese cracker snacks, and pistachios! All of these snacks were very good and I still have them to enjoy on the ship (well, except for the wine). We then went the rest of the way to the top of the mountain and what a gorgeous sight we beheld. The Northern area of the island was taken over by Turkish rule a few years back and you could see their side of the island that we weren’t allowed to visit. They consider themselves a nation but no one recognizes them as such except for Turkey. Odd. We could see down along the coast and the funny thing is there were ski slopes at the top of the mountain because in the winter months there are around 3 meters of snow at the top of the mountain even though the beaches stay very hot year round. Uli said that most of the Cyprus people go to the top of the mountain for skiing in the morning and then down to the beaches for wind surfing in the afternoon. All of the trees at the top of the mountain are bent from holding the snow and there are little villages established for summer homes so that Cyprus people can escape the hot summers and climb the mountain to the cooler areas.

I found some volcanic rock which I analyzed with an expert eye, Not, and then we headed down for lunch. We stopped at a magnificent place and ate in a very open breezy restaurant that served a 6 coarse meal. We were famished and so of  course we ate it all, I now agree that the mediterranean food is VERY VERY good. I had humus and a yogurt dip for bread, then some sort of pot pie with egg-plant and potatoes, and pork, steak, french fries, plus a few other dishes which I just didn’t know exactly what they were made  of. We were even given crafts of wine, which we indulged in.

Uli came and got us after the meal was over and took us to a big waterfall on the mountain. We took pictures there and stuck our feet in the water but it was freezing cold because it’s the run off from all of the snow in the winter. We bought ice cream from a vendor that was at the waterfall and enjoyed it as we got back into the jeep. We made two final stops after this. One was to a small store that a woman owns whom makes homemade jam. I bought 2 jars for toast, and then finally we went to a damn and saw a church that was very old and falling to pieces. We stopped there simply because it was a beautiful sight to see and then Uli headed back to the ship to drop us off.

L and I, the only two officer’s on the tour of 6, dropped off our bags, changed into summer dresses and headed back out to the main strip for dinner. I had this huge greek salad that was very good but I had eaten so much already that day I gave half of it away to one of the pilots on shore patrol. We then got Galata ice cream cones and L and I took a cab back to the ship because by this time I really was exhausted and it was going on 11pm. All of the cabs on the island are Mercedes for some reason and they drive like 90 mph down the streets so we were holding on for dear life, as we zoomed back. They also drive on the wrong side of the road in Cyprus, same as London. Luckily we made it safely there and I jumped into my bed and immediately passed out!

DAY 2

I woke up early in the morning and got ready for a 0800 departure again as usual. Today’s tour was called the Footsteps of Aphrodite. There was a big coach bus that came and picked us up so there were definitely a lot more people on this tour than the first one. We had a group made up of 3 pilots and 4 officers, then whoever else just happened to be on our bus.

Our first stop was at this area where they had roman bath ruins and also a reconstructed theater/arena. This day was also a good day for touring so we set off and started the picture-taking as soon as we got off the bus. These two places I will send pictures of, because it is very hard to explain them. Afterwards, we went and saw Aphrodite’s rock which legend has it, is where she was born. I had a few beers, and we took some really great pictures on the mountain side with the big beach and the rock in the background, and then we headed to a Greek orthodox church with ancient ruins out front. The church was in session since it was a Sunday so we stood outside and took pictures and found out that some of the ruins are centuries old.

Afterward, we went to the tomb of the kings which is a place where they had found hundreds of tombs after much excavation. Rumor has it that no real kings were buried there, but seeing the graves was eery and awesome all at the same time. I of course don’t get that freaked out since I have worked with the dead, but it was fun freaking out K and H. Haha.

For the rest of the afternoon we went to a combined place where they had the house of Dyuses, up on a hill right by our lunch spot and markets on the water. Here we saw mosaics that had been hand-made during greek times, many many many years ago, it was crazy. They were beautiful and must have taken years to make. We had lunch outside, and we laughed hysterically the whole time, it was great! I just know my stomach really hurt at the end of the meal. We also drank during lunch and then got ice cream. We really like drinking and ice cream! Then we walked along the water and did some shopping, but I really didn’t buy much here, because it was pretty crappy stuff. We went back onto the bus and headed back to the ship.

Again we changed and within minutes were heading back downtown for dinner and drinks, go figure. Haha. We stopped at a bar on the beach and drank some there and laughed again, this time two more pilots had joined the group and we had lost L and E because they decided to stay on the ship. We then ate at a Russian/Greek restaurant. I did forget to add that there are A LOT of russian’s on the island and this is a major area for the Russian mob and human trafficking, so they have three languages for everything. Greek, Russian, and English. The restaurant was right next to a Starbucks so we all immediately pulled out anything with wi-fi (my iPad) and jumped on to Skype with friends and family. I was able to talk to Dad, one of my sisters, and M. A little later on, I also was able to catch Mom who was at work.

After dinner we went to a karaoke bar which half the ship was at. It was a repeat of London with all of my guys. So of course I did what I should, bought them all a round of drinks. They tried to get me to karaoke but I politely refused and then we headed back to the ship. The bus came and it was full so I got off the bus with Heather and Kaye (my liberty buddies) because we will not get in trouble for getting back late, but I made one of the chief’s buy me a beer for waiting, which he did. Haha. We got back to the ship after midnight (that was our liberty expiration time) but all was good and we went to bed. I then woke up at 0515 the next morning for sea and anchor which was not very fun but it had to be done. We then said goodbye to Cyprus headed towards Haifa Israel.